The King is dead

The steam was still rising from my fresh-from-the-oven post about the long-anticipated passing of Farrah Fawcett when I received a bulletin about another celebrity — indeed, one of entertainment’s biggest names of the past half-century.

Michael Jackson, gone at age 50.

Whew.

It’s practically impossible to overestimate Michael’s impact on the music industry, and on the side business of celebrity. He practically defined the term “child star” as the lead vocalist of the Jackson Five. At the height of his adult solo career, he was the best-known, most beloved, and most highly revered individual performer in all of show business. It’s fair to say that he launched the music video industry into respectability. This was a guy who made so much money with his own music that he bought The Beatles’ catalog, too.

When Michael dubbed himself “The King of Pop,” he wasn’t just selling wolf tickets.

And then came the weirdness.

What always fascinated me about the latter-day Michael Jackson — you know, the cat-nosed, gray-complected, amusement-park-dwelling, germophobic, baby-dangling, accused-pedophile whack-job Michael Jackson — is that as bizarre a figure as he became, even people who despised the sight of the guy often felt just a touch sorry for him.

That’s a tough balancing act.

Nobody pities O.J. Simpson. Nobody feels sorry for Phil Spector. Michael Vick? Barry Bonds? Jose Canseco? Please.

But with rare exceptions — all of whom, I’m certain, will chime in here with comments — folks couldn’t help thinking that this charismatic, tremendously talented person must have experienced some horrific damage early in life to turn out the way that he did. For all of the crazy things he said and did — and that other people said that he did — Michael Jackson resonated tragedy. That didn’t excuse him. But it did make people wish his life had gone differently.

Although I never much idolized music figures even when I loved music the most, Michael Jackson was a favorite of mine when I was young. Michael was a few years older than I, but we were close enough in age to be peers, and for his life and career to be a fantasy to my juvenile self. I watched the Jackson Five cartoon religiously every Saturday morning. I played the Jackson Five card game zealously with my parents until the Tito cards started to fray around the edges. And I wore the grooves out on Michael’s first couple of solo albums.

The kid sang a love song to a rat, for crying out loud, and I was all over it.

Even as my musical tastes evolved — I was much more an arena rocker as a teen than a disco angel — I always kept an ear open to what Michael was up to. And more often than not, I enjoyed what I heard. When you rattle off his megahit singles from the ’80s — “Off the Wall,” “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Thriller,” “Bad,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Man in the Mirror,” “Smooth Criminal” — that’s a repertoire that includes some of the greatest pop music ever recorded, hands down, no questions asked. I can still conjure every one of those songs in my head all these years later, and they all still sound amazing.

Much will be written in the hours and days ahead about the dark and twisted path Michael’s life followed during its last two decades. Perhaps, at some juncture, I’ll write about some of that myself.

But right now, while news of his untimely death rings afresh, I just want to close my eyes, and hear those songs, and feel the boundless, effortless energy of those performances.

The King of Pop is dead.

Long live the King.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Celebritiana, Dead People Got No Reason to Live, Reminiscing, Soundtrack of My Life

One Comment on “The King is dead”

  1. Kathy Says:

    Thank you, Michael! This was an excellent overview of Michael Jackson!


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